Funny thing is, Google’s strategy has always been in plain sight. There’s no obfuscation. There’s no misdirection. Heck, this New York Times piece spells it out:
Google has used a similar approach — immense computing power, heaps of data and statistics — to tackle other complex problems. In 2007, for example, it began offering 800-GOOG-411, a free directory assistance service that interprets spoken requests. It allowed Google to collect the voices of millions of people so it could get better at recognizing spoken English. A year later, Google released a search-by-voice system that was as good as those that took other companies years to build.
See what Google did there? It released a free service so it could gather huge amounts of data that could then be used in another product. That’s what Google does. Free leads to data, data leads to another product. Repeat over and over and over and over again.